37 Hours in San Francisco: A Beer-Loving Tourist’s Travel Guide
What can we say of San Francisco that hasn’t already been said or written? As one of California’s most iconic cities, there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of travel guides available online and in print.
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Here, we’ll take a slightly different tact. We’re looking squarely at first-time visitors who have a penchant for great food and great brews. And you’re in luck! Because there’s no shortage of either – we’re talking world class beer bars on almost every block of downtown San Francisco. So strap on your drinking shoes and prepare for 37 sudsy hours in one of California’s awesomest cities!
There are so many iconic spots to hit in San Francisco that it’s impossible not to step well into the “tourist zone” while in the city. So you may as well embrace it! First stop: Fisherman’s Wharf.
Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf is said to be the largest attraction in the state of California, second only to Disneyland. But if you’ve never been to San Francisco, it’s a must-visit.
It’s massively touristy in a theme park kind of way. It’s loud, garish and you’ll swear half the city is there all at once especially on weekends. Touts, street performers, bands, souvenir peddlers, buskers, preachers and other crazies abound, all vying for your attention (and money).
The big culinary get here is chowder in a bread bowl, and the biggest get is Boudin Bakery. Grab your own massive, volleyball-sized sourdough bread bowl and head to their outdoor patio for some al fresco dining and people-watching. I won’t argue over whether they’re the best on the Wharf, but at $10 (USD) for the soup+salad combo, they are among the cheapest.
2p / Alcatraz
How about an opportunity to burn off that week’s worth of carbs you just consumed? Hop the ferry nearby for a 20-minute ride to Alcatraz. The views of the bay are worth the price of admission alone.
But the real draw is of course touring the infamous prison itself. The two-hour, self-guided audio tour is one of the most interesting, educational and well-done tours I’ve ever taken. It’s narrated largely from the point of view of the guards and employees who actually worked there in the mid-20th century. Their insight into daily life on the island for both the prisoners and prison workers is simply fascinating.
If you’re feeling ambitious, I highly recommend walking to your hotel for the night where you’ll also find tonight’s restaurant.
6p / Dinner @ Jasper’s
An amazing beer bar attached to your hotel? What fresh heaven is this? Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen is just a stone’s throw from Union Square and the Curran Theater, making it extremely convenient to get to no matter where in the city you’re staying.
The beer list is fantastic and every single thing I sampled on the menu was equally as good. You’re guaranteed to leave here full and a little buzzed.
I highly recommend sampling a bit of everything, tapas style. In no particular order, the crispy piggy, jasper fries, seared tambo and (AND!) they have honest-to-goodness, authentic, award-winning poutine (steak cut fries, brown gravy, mushrooms, cheese curds) – a hangover cure if ever there was one and a bit of a rare find outside of Quebec. It’s also worth mentioning that the calamari is the best I’ve taste outside of New England (and we take it quite seriously here).
The beer list is largely California-centric, with a peppering of non-local brews as well. Everything from PranQster, Mermaid Red, Heroine IPA, Deschutes (Bend, OR) is on offer and ever-rotating. The Heretic Evil Twin is easily the best beer I’ve had in a while. It starts like a red ale (which is how it’s billed) but finishes with a nice, rounded hoppy bite like an IPA.
Overnight @ Serrano Hotel
There’s certainly no shortage of hotel options in downtown San Fran. Serrano Hotel was kind enough to put us up during our recent trip to the city. It proved to be a fantastic, record-setting stay indeed!
First off, any hotel that offers an attached beer bar/restaurant (the aforementioned Jasper’s) is A-OK in our book. Couple that with amazing food and we’re totally hooked. Other onsite amenities include: high-speed internet access, valet parking, room service (from Jasper’s no less), bellman service, laundry services and they’re pet-friendly to boot!
Lobby of the Serrano Hotel, San Francisco
What’s more: it’s situated squarely downtown — no more than a 30-minute walk from Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Powell Station and (most importantly) many of the beer bars you’ll soon be discovering.
We were fortunate to crash in an Executive Suite. At nearly 500 square feet in total, it’s larger than some apartments I’ve lived in with plenty of room for activities. Big enough for a king bed and separate sitting room with a queen sleeper sofa through candy-striped curtains.
Suite at the Serrano Hotel, San Francisco
Other features include an iHome docking station, luxurious Frette linens, a fully stocked mini bar, two flat-panel TVs with on-demand videos and a spacious desk with ergonomic chair (all the better to blog from!).
The kicker (and the record-setting part) was the insanely oversized bathroom with the even more oversized shower stall. The latter was nearly large enough to park a Mini Cooper (I’m not kidding) and featured: 4 jets, 3 shower heads, 2 seats, a steam jet … and a TV. More like a luxury car wash really. It’s a wonder I was ever able to leave my room.
They routinely run great advanced booking offers so check out their Special Offers page for the latest.
8a / Breakfast @ Blue Bottle Coffee
A quick 10-minute walk from the hotel sits Blue Bottle Coffee. Born and raised in New England, I’m a bit of an iced coffee snob, but this mirco-chain frankly serves some of the best I’ve ever tasted. And it’s no wonder because, given their elaborate setup — which resembles a laboratory more than a cafe — they clearly take their coffee brewing very, very seriously.
Grab a fresh danish or muffin from their selection of rotating breakfast treats. And pair it with the New Orleans-style iced coffee. At first the taste was so subtle that I didn’t think much of it. But, the more I drank, the more the flavors slowly opened up with a nice, light sweetness and just a hint of chicory (I really am getting to be quite the gentleman dandy in my old age …).
9a / Explore the Country’s Oldest Chinatown
For a real taste of the city’s history, culture and pulse, take a walk through Chinatown – the oldest of its kind in the country and the largest outside of Asia.
Developed during California’s Gold Rush, it continues to thrive as a model of a “city within a city”. Every morning, the area comes alive with the colors of exotic fruits and vegetables, the smell of just-caught fish and a chaotic mishmash of yard sale-inspired tchotchke including old cassette tapes, bootleg DVDs, off-brand electronics, children’s toys and more.
Each year, tourists pile into tour buses by the millions to stop for six minutes at the far end of the Golden Gate Bridge, snap a few “Look, I was here!” photos and move on. But if you allow just a bit more time, you can walk the bridge which is infinitely more interesting and provides many more photo opportunities! Just hop a cab from Chinatown to the northern end of the bridge, where it’ll only take about an hour to traverse the 1.7-mile span back to the city.
If you want to start “light”, I highly recommend the Saucisson a L’ail (pork, garlic and caramelized onions). Although I strongly encourage you to strap on the big boy pants and splash out on the Sausage Sampler that includes all five of their sausages with their toppings. Oh and be sure to go early – this place fills to the rafters almost every night of the week!
Afternoon Pub Crawl
From Mikkeller, you have your choice of the best beer bars in the entire country. So let the pub crawl begin!
For starters, check out the incredibly popular 21st Amendment Brewery in South Beach and their Hell or High Watermelon Wheat.
A little further afield, near Haight-Asbury, is Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery featuring organic pub food (really) and a long list of brews, including their own. Don’t miss their bitter on cask – just phenomenal. A stone’s throw from there is Toronado — a no-frills joint that’s perhaps one of the best beer bars in the city with a mind-bloggingly massive selection. Plus, they often have Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Elder!
Monk’s Kettle opened its doors in 2007 and claims to have started San Francisco’s gastropub trend. Whether that’s true or not, it’s a pretty awesome joint.
For a little something different, check out Biergarten – an uber traditional outdoor German beer garden with food to match, plenty of beers and communal tables because, c’mon … who wants to get sauced alone?
Or you could completely throw my recommendations out the window and simply ask any bartender downtown what they like. There are enough great beer bars within the city limits to keep you pub crawling every day for weeks, if not a month.
Food + Beer Pairing Dinner @ Abbott’s Cellar
To round out your tipsy afternoon, make Abbott’s Cellar your last stop for the day. Just a short walk south from Monk’s Kettle, it features fine-dining in a rustic space with nearly 120 beers on tap. It’s “dedicated to food and beverage pairings, with a focus on craft beer. Pristinely sourced, simply cooked cuisine, paired perfectly with craft beer and wine.” Indeed.
The nice thing is that you don’t even have to look at the menu. Just opt for the beer tasting/pairing menu and let the staff do the rest – you won’t be disappointed!
Overnight @ Serrano Hotel
Head back to the hotel to crash early or order some pay-per-view. You’ve earned it! If you did it right, you should’ve checked at least a dozen things off your San Francisco bucket list!